Minority - 5 Years (Section 5)

Along with the process of language learning, comes the inescapable fact that, no matter how much you want to just blend in, you do not. All of the lovely integration, cross-cultural understanding, and community-building discussed previously only comes through a period of patience, frustration, and feeling like “other.”

Clearly the process is not an easy one – and at first it generates quite a bit of heat. Some challenges were foreseeable, others not as much. Having always been a member of the majority ethnic group in the United States, becoming a minority in a biased culture that does not shy away from emphasizing the difference between ethnicities has been a challenge. Not only do many Honduras naturally- and internally-assume us to be strange, wealthy people seeking to give away our presumed fortune to every acquaintance, they often have no hesitation in expressing that feeling by candidly or indirectly asking for a piece of that pie. Not only do we deal with unbreaking stares and solicitations from passersby, we are often ignorantly (and innocently) addressed as “Gringo” and “Gringa” by complete strangers. Every trip to town involves multiple conversations surrounding our US identity. Many just address me according their perception of me – Chele Pelón (Bald White Guy*). When you cannot even tell someone that you grew up in a brick house next to a lake without needing a nap and maybe a counseling-session afterwards, it is inevitable that you (and likely the person in front of you) begin to feel like you are two different creatures. That feeling is dramatically-compounded by watching heads whip on their axles towards you when you go out in public for something as simple as grabbing a Coke. At times it felt like me getting out of the truck in Santa Cruz seemed like a gorilla popping out of a vending machine to passersby. Instant astonishment followed by questions of how, why, and where. I often joked with Stacey that I thought that I could walk down one side of the street and a naked woman down the other side and no one would even know that she had been there. Although this all might seem funny when written out, the inability to quietly exist as the rest of your fellow man and disappear into the crowd is an incredibly-frustrating and at times infuriating experience.

Over the years, we have often found ourselves leaving groceries from the city in the car until after dark. We often wait to bring them in once the neighbors have left in order to conceal our extravagant purchases of cereal, cheddar cheese, and chicken. Time has shown us that unloading the car in the daylight attracts kids and neighbors like moths to a flame – tiny fingers searching through plastic bags until their suspicions are confirmed and soon thereafter communicated to everyone in their household. At best, the onlookers determine that we’re crazy for eating that stuff, or more likely, they determine that we are ostentatious, wealthy neighbors who keep the best for themselves. This debacle is greatly augmented when some of these people are new to us, and have not known us for years. 

These experiences have led me to reflect on my own life in the States. I think of how often I would ignore or minimize the frustrations and challenges expressed by minority groups living in the United States. Until our time in Honduras, I had always been fortunate enough to belong to the majority culture. I was aware that perhaps it was an occasional challenge for minority groups to exist alongside "us," but surely it couldn’t be that bad. My compassion for such groups has since augmented greatly.

As obnoxious and time-consuming as all of the attention was and still is, I cannot imagine how much more difficult such an experience would be for someone from a marginalized social group. Even for all of the misconceptions about my Gringoness, for the most part, being a gringo is still a desirable thing in Honduras. Many people in Honduras genuinely respect and think well of North Americans – although I suspect that admiration is also frequently misplaced. In many nations, including our own, certain social groups are implicitly disdained due to their race, religion, or nationality. Even in my own advantaged version of racism, I feel like my every word, movement, and decision is scrutinized, examined and disseminated to both friend and foe. If I am found to truly be rich, I am a target. If I am determined to be poor, I am a stupid gringo that could not even succeed in the United States.

To be viewed, treated, and singled-out as other is a very annoying and degrading experience. You lose your personal identity to the preconceptions and assumptions of the majority culture. As much as I might want to convince those around me that I am not just a rich, Ferrari-driving, world-ruling, ignorant gringo, my greatest efforts are often fruitless until I have known someone for a very long time. Even then, you cannot possibly have the conversation with everyone – and so to many, you continue to just be the gringo, with no opportunity to ever prove them wrong. This too is the plight of our minority brothers and sisters in our own communities. Let us not forget that always, somewhere, we are the stranger.

Christ came to those that were far away and those that were near. He made the foreigner a compatriot. He called men and women to follow him. Those that were despised, he raised up and honored. He went to dine with the outcast and ignored. Our created world is sustained and prospers only when harmony is attained through diversity. A thriving forest is not made only of one species of oak tree. Many species of tree comprise a growing wood. In the canopy nest many types of birds – each singing its own song. Squirrels of different colors and sizes leap from limb to limb. Between the wooden giants grow countless varieties of mosses, ferns, shrubs, vines, mushrooms, and wildflowers each contributing to the well-being of the other. In the detritus of the tree’s leftover leaves, a rich world of bacteria, insects, and crawling things work to process what would appear to be waste. Beyond the forest spread vast plains and towering mountains that tumble downward into unknown depths of oceans and forms of life. Humans are scattered throughout this created world, benefitting from the food, air, and shelter provided by the diversity of life that surrounds us. 

When we minimize or pigeonhole the "other," we not only doing harm to that person - we are minimizing God's creativity and are personally missing out on the opportunity to grow and learn from that person. In the same way that nature seeks a natural balance and is most productive when it is at its most diverse, we too can thrive by being a productive member of a diverse world. I think that most of us would agree that a thriving forest or jungle is infinitely more beautiful and vibrant than a desert, monotype grass lawn, or row upon row of soybeans.  

We were created to find and maintain balance. We were placed here to garden, to steward, to encourage growth and life. Let us begin with one another.

*With time and understanding, even the term Chele Pelón has become innocuous. Depending on who says it, the name can actually serve as a term of endearment and not offense - I'm not endorsing such usage however.

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